D.C. off Course

By Barras, Jonetta Rose | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 28, 2000 | Go to article overview

D.C. off Course


Barras, Jonetta Rose, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Trying to keep the water out of the Titanic after it has already hit the iceberg while simultaneously trying to construct a new ocean liner might be the best description of the position in which Mayor Anthony Williams and his team find themselves. Adding to their dilemma is that most of the passengers don't seem to remember the reason for the rescue operation. Everyone has amnesia.

The lapse of memory may be understandable; most people equate health with money. If the city is showing a surplus, then everything must be fine. But what plagued the District was much deeper, more systemic. Officials had mismanaged the government's financial resources, municipal delivery system and labor force. While some believed the city's near-bankrupt status was the sole reason Congress created the unprecedented control board, the group's formal name - the D.C. Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority - debunks that myth.

Here's further proof: Before Mr. Williams assumed office, six District agencies, including public housing, child welfare, mental health, and corrections, were under court order or were being directed by a court-appointed receiver. Mentally retarded and/or disabled residents were dying in government-funded group homes. The federal government had suspended the city's block grant program. A failed computer system had been replaced, but many employees had not received adequate training on it; most agency computers couldn't talk to each other. Timely trash collection was a standing joke.

In a city with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and one of most poorly trained labor forces, the Department of Employment Services failed to spend millions of dollars budgeted to train employees and residents. The school system was in shambles. Neighborhood economic development was a foreign concept; few officials even talked about it. The health care system was almost nonexistent, even with the creation of the new Public Benefits Corporation.

At the recreation department, residents had been forced to assume management and programming at some centers, most of which were falling apart, needing major capital investments; a fee system had been implemented because taxpayer funds had been mismanaged, and the agency was under investigation. Dysfunction was pervasive. No agency escaped it.

Add to this the chaos created by the control board. It assumed authority over several major agencies and quickly appointed a bunch of incompetents to lead them, who later were terminated or politely asked to leave, taking with them hundreds of thousands of dollars -taxpayer dollars - as severance. The board spent $8 million on consultants who were supposed to offer advice on how to improve services; the disclosure by The Washington Post - and not the consultants - of the deaths and mistreatment of retarded or disabled residents living in government-funded group homes is just one example of the quality of work performed. …

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